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The Role of Victims/Survivors on Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs)

Guest Post by SVJI Intern: Nikki Hanto

Many Sexual Assault Response Teams are beginning to talk about how to best include victim/survivor voices in the work they do. By finding out what victims/survivors experience and need, we are able to be victim-centered and relevant to those we serve. This month’s topic explores the relationship between victims/survivors and SARTs!

This post is focused on understanding the role of victims/survivors and how they can enhance the work of the SART.

Who should be on a SART? SARTs are made up of multiple disciplines within a community, each sending a representative who is able to go back to their agency to implement the changes worked on within the SART. With this in mind, it is important to recognize this is not typically a space where victims/survivors can best be heard and participate. By including a victim/survivor on a team, there is often an unspoken expectation they speak for all survivors and all experiences, and we know each person has their own experience.

There are plenty of opportunities for victims/survivors to provide input and direction for the SART, which will be in the next post.

So what are some ways to include these critical voices? Options such as having folks sit on an advisory committee, pulling together focus groups, or doing individual interviews or surveys are ways to gather information without expecting a few survivors to speak for everyone, and to include victims/survivors voices in an intentional way.

Advisory Committee: This method includes gathering critical community partners who are not a part of the team, and having them meet periodically to review and advise the work of the SART. Let participants know the committee would exist to advise the team on how to improve what they are doing and to make recommendations moving forward. The important part of having an advisory committee is to be intentional about follow-through when receiving the information and set expectations and parameters for feedback.

Focus Group: Focus groups may include a group of victims/survivors to get together for a discussion around a particular topic. This could be either general or specific, meaning if the team was having a hard time deciding which direction to take or what sort of goals to set, the focus group might help inform the team on the needs of victims/survivors and offer ways to improve the systems response. A more specific focus could be to determine if the work the team has been done is having an impact or have the group discuss the team’s proposed ideas. This might even lead to the recognition of unintended consequences or ways in which policies are excluding certain groups of people.

Individual Interviews: Individual interviews allows for a more personal interaction compared to the first two suggestions. This technique might be most helpful for those victims/survivors who are uncomfortable in group settings or who want to remain anonymous. Be sure to carefully select the person conducting interviews and allow options—as some victims/survivors might be more comfortable with certain team discipline members.

Surveys: Distributing surveys is a way to gather a lot of information with little barriers to access. This is less personal than the other in-person suggestions, however it also adds a level of anonymity, allowing you to gather information from folks who you may have a harder time getting feedback from. Something to consider when doing surveys is creating low barriers to accessing this option. For example, having someone from the team available to read the questions and write responses for those who might need extra support, and having translated copies of the survey for those who speak another language.

When considering gathering information from victims/survivors, it is important to know what to do and what not to do. These suggestions for how to gather voices from victims/survivors can be used on their own or as options for victims/survivors to determine which method of participation is best for them, should they choose to participate. With each of these suggestions, it is also important to keep in mind the principles of working with victims/survivors and gathering data. This will be next week’s topic!